Abstract

The hyper-arid climate of the Arabian Gulf makes it an excessively water-deficient region. Ironically, the Gulf States count among the few places with the highest per capita water consumption and low tariff. Since a few decades ago, seawater desalination has been the most reliable source of portable water in the Gulf. Recently, many critical scholars raise concerns about the rising levels of brine discharge, effects of water intake and outfall systems infrastructure, plants’ high energy consumption and fragmented regulatory and policy frameworks. In this study, we explore the potentials of environmental governance in addressing sustainability risks of seawater desalination projects. The DPSIR model and the Earth system governance framework guided and supported our analysis of several multidimensional issues that underlie the characteristics of this industry. Thus, we identified 29 cause and effect factors as well as nine environmental governance intervention strategies.The study suggests that the industry’s network of stakeholders can develop good ideas for fostering sustainability by using innovative tools such as hackathon—an interdisciplinary, participatory, solution-oriented, and consensus building platform. Finally, this study enjoins policymakers, businesses, and scientists to embrace more transparent, practical and holistic ideas in designing, executing and assessing technological innovations and interventions in national and regional water security initiatives.